Keisuke Ikehata lived, studied, and worked in three different countries, including Japan, Canada, and the United States. He grew up in Japan and received his bachelor's degree in applied chemistry (polymer chemistry) before moving to Canada to pursue graduate degrees in environmental engineering. Ihekata is now an R&D manager for Pacific Advanced Civil Engineering, an engineering and construction firm in California.
“I've done so many different projects in chemistry, biology, toxicology, water and wastewater treatment, industrial waste management, and water reuse in the past 20 years, which made my professional career very colorful and unique.”
What do you do in your current position?
I manage our R&D group that consists of six research scientists and engineers to conduct research and development in the area of water quality, water and wastewater treatment, and water reuse. I also write proposals for research grants and consulting projects along with project reports. I am also involved in many other projects in the company as a technical specialist and provide expert opinions on a variety of water quality challenges.
How did you find your first job?
The first chemistry-related job after my PhD was a postdoctoral fellowship in Dr. Robert Hanzlik's research group in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Kansas (KU). I was actively looking for a postdoc opportunity in toxicology at that time and found this opportunity at Science Careers (AAAS).
By the way, after I finished my degree in civil & environmental engineering (which is a very applied science), I wanted to go back to chemistry to do more basic science research and learn new techniques. After my postdoc at KU, I realized that I'd better pursue my career in environmental engineering because I spent six years (including my master's) in civil & environmental engineering, and I felt more comfortable there. I recognized that I can use chemistry as my competitive advantage in the field of environmental engineering--water engineering, in particular, where so many different chemical and biochemical reactions are taking place.
How many hours per week do you generally spend on the following tasks?
|Task||Hours per week
|Consulting with colleagues||6-10|
What is your workplace like?
My workplace environment is fast-paced. I should say, as a researcher in a for-profit organization, there are lots of things to do outside my normal working hours. I think my workplace is both competitive and collegial. It is very important for me to keep up with the recent progress in science & technology and upcoming regulatory issues in order to maintain and raise the value of my services to clients, coworkers, and colleagues.
What is your work environment like?
I have my own office and do not share it with others. My office is pretty messy with documents, folders, binders, magazines and journals (very typical researcher's office). We also have a lab in our building, and I enjoy working there sometimes when my duties in my office are light.
What do you like most about your job?
I really enjoy working with my group members and see them accomplishing their goals. I still miss the academic environment where I can interact with young students with lots of energy and passion. Another thing I really enjoy is meeting people. As with most chemistry jobs, my job requires a fair amount of traveling, including meetings, conferences, workshops, etc., where I get to know hundreds of new people every year. Meeting and talking with other professionals is very inspiring... although sometimes a bit tiring (because I am rather an introverted person.)
What personal talent or trait makes you a great fit for your job?
Detailed, persistent, open-minded, (somewhat) social, goal-oriented.
What apps and tools are must-haves for you?
Smartphone, Map app, and Outlook for emails, schedules, and appointments.
What advice would you give others who are interested in following in your footsteps?
Be interested in many different things and always be ambitious. Water chemistry and engineering is a highly interdisciplinary field. It involves chemistry, biology, geology, physics, as well as public health and social science. In fact, public outreach and risk communication are very important in water and wastewater industry because of water scarcity and water quality deterioration. Of course, law and regulations are always important because we are dealing with something (water) that affects everybody's life.
Having said that, it is very important to have a strong background in basic science. Though having a PhD is not an absolute requirement, I find that the critical research skills I acquired during my PhD program really helped me achieve my goals.
Also, networking is extremely important in a professional career. Be open to meet new people and exchange ideas. Learn from multiple mentors. Join and get involved in scientific and technical organizations, including the ACS. Those social networking tools are great, but it is better to have physical connections with real people face-to-face.
What is your favorite ACS resource?
I would have to say the people I have met during ACS activities, including local section activities, national meetings, regional meetings, committee meetings, training sessions, workshops, etc. Even though I’m not an extroverted person, I really enjoy interacting with people and coming up with new ideas. At work, I sometimes close my office door to focus on my work (e.g., writing)... so it works out well to become an extrovert sometimes.
How have you benefited from being an ACS member?
I am so fortunate to meet so many great chemists in the United States and beyond. The ACS also provided me a number of great training opportunities to improve my leadership skills through local section activities. I am currently the chair-elect and an alternate councilor for the Orange County local section in California. I've had an opportunity to serve as a program co-chair for the Western Regional Meeting in 2015 as well.
I joined the Committee on Environmental Improvement (CEI) as an associate this year (2017). I think it is a great privilege and honor to serve for the ACS committee to make a difference at the national level, which is a great benefit for my professional career.